Eating my way through Columbus

by Chris on February 1, 2010

Eating my way through Columbus, Ohio, with stops at Barcelona, Dirty Frank’s, North Market and Pistacia Vera.

North Market Columbus, Ohio

I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t have high hopes for Columbus before I arrived on Thursday.

That’s my own ignorance at play. I didn’t know, for example, that Columbus is actually the biggest city in Ohio (yep, at 1.5 million people, bigger than Cleveland or Cincinnati). I didn’t know that it has a large white collar population, as Columbus is the base for Nationwide Insurance, Limited Brands (which owns Victoria’s Secret), Abercrombie & Fitch and several other Fortune 500 companies. Ohio State University, one of the largest in the country, is also located here.

What that all means is that Columbus has both the means and interest to keep up with trends that are happening on the Coasts. That’s particularly true when it comes to food – the city has all sorts of cute places run by chefs and entrepreneurs who are focused on using local ingredients and seasonal produce in interesting ways

My hosts here for the AAA Great Vacations Expo have kept me well-fed, bringing me to some of the city’s hot spots. Here are just a few of the treats that I’ve experienced since I’ve been here.

Barcelona, German Village, Columbus, Ohio

Barcelona. This tapas place, built in a former beer hall in Columbus’s adorable German Village neighborhood, is the favorite of one of my friends, Amy Weirick, so we feasted there on Thursday night. And when I say feast, I mean it: between three of us, we sampled a good portion of the menu. Our waiter, Mike T, was one of the more knowledgeable I’ve met lately, and he steered us right. We started with a cheese plate that included a gorgeous La Peral, a cave-aged blue cheese served in a sherry reduction, as well as a plate of Jamon Iberico de Bellota – that ham from an acorn-fed pig that I lived on in the real Barcelona last year. All of this was washed down with a red sangria that met my standards of not being too sweet.

Tres Cerdos, Barcelona, Columbus, Ohio

Like most of the diners surrounding us, we ordered a paella among the entrees. It wasn’t the standout, however. That honor went to a dish called “Tres Cerdos,” – basically, pork three ways. Imagine a pork chop wrapped in bacon and filled with chorizo. It was incredibly tender and tasty.

Scallops at Barcelona, Columbus, Ohio

The “vieiras” dish of sauteed scallops served in a cream sauce of bacon, mushroom, dates and baby lima beans also had us oohing and ahing.

Dirty Frank's, Columbus, Ohio

Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace. Amy told me that I had to experience this upscale hot dog joint, which has a costume karoake on Monday nights. It was a Friday, so no singing – but the bar, decorated with paintings of rock stars done by the owner’s brother, a Philadelphia artist – was packed with people in their 20s and 30s, drinking local beers and eating franks topped with everything from Korean kim chee to corn relish to cream cheese and chives. I ordered a BLT (again with the bacon – I know, it’s a bad habit), along with sides of tator tots and mac and cheese.

BLT hotdog, Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace, Columbus

Both the hot dog and tator tots were fantastic – I finished my tots and moved on to my dining companion Thera’s plate. I couldn’t eat the mac and cheese though. It was just a little rich for me. At the manager’s insistence, we finished with a funnel cake and walked out about ready to give birth to a food baby. Bring your appetite if you come here.

Aerial view of pretty macarons, Pistacio Vera, Columbus, Ohio

Pistacia Vera. When I arrived at my lodging – the amazing Whittier Suites run by the German Village Guesthouse - I was greeted with a lovely wrapped box of colorful macarons. I’m used to the earthy looking macaroons served up in Philly’s Italian bakeries so I was a little flummoxed by these delicate, pastel upper-crust cousins, coming in flavors such as white chocolate coconut, Meyer lemon and orange chestnut. They were delicious, however, so I was happy when Amy took me to the Pistacia Vera store where I could see the cooks in action.

Making chocolate bombe at Pistacia Vera, Columbus

This chef is creating a chocolate bombe cake. As far as  those macarons go, let’s just say there won’t be any left for my husband when I get home.

Sign at North Market, Columbus, Oho

North Market. Any city serious about its food has a fantastic farmers market, and Columbus is no exception. The North Market complex is more Seattle than Sandusky: all of the 35 vendors are independent vendors and merchants who are serious about their ingredients and food. We went after already consuming pastries at Tasi Cafe, so I didn’t think I was hungry.

Taste of Belgium, North Market, Columbus, Ohio

Enthusiastic vendors offered me samples anyway so I was able to try Jeni’s ice cream, which comes in all sorts of unusual flavors (goat cheese and cherry; smoked carmel, gooey butter cake); waffles from Taste of Belgium (their secret is hunks of beet sugar in the dough) and Pam’s Market Popcorn, where the painful purgatory  pepper popcorn was seriously hot.

Pam's Market Popcorn, North Market, Columbus, Ohio

If I lived in Columbus, I’d be at this market all the time.

I’m heading back to Washington today so I’m not sure how much more I’ll be able to eat (particularly because the Whittier Suites include a stocked kitchen with fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs, yogurt and banana bread). But Columbus is now on my radar as a happening place and I’m sure I’ll be back again.

Disclosure: My meals and lodging were paid for by AAA Great Vacations Expo.

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike January 23, 2010 at 9:52 pm

Good writeup – feel free to browse my blog prior to your next visit – I’ve been to most of the “best” in Columbus and elsewhere and those Macarons at Pistachia – yep, better than almost anywhere in the US.

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Jen January 24, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Thanks for visiting Columbus! We do have a lot of great food here. Next time try Alana’s or Rigsby’s Kitchen. Two of my favorites.

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Jim January 24, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Minor correction for people wanting those macarons.

http://www.pistaciavera.com

Pistacia Vera

And a “few” other places to visit: Jeni’s Ice Cream, Alana’s, Deepwood, Rigsbys, G. Michaels, Lindys, Basi Italia, Surly Girl Saloon, Starliner Diner, Pattycake Bakery, Taco Trucks and more.

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Rick January 24, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Thanks for visiting our fare city, and for taking in some of the finer fare. The food in Columbus, and those who prepare it, are might talented. As Jen noted above, the “star” of the scene is The Refectory, which could be plopped down in France and fit in just fine alongside its native neighbors.

That said, you did get to experience a wonderful array of our city’s best–tell more friends and come and play in Columbus.

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Chris January 24, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Jim – Thanks for the correction. I changed it in the post. I did get to try Jeni’s at the North Market – delicious!

Thanks also for these other suggestions. Now I’ve got a list for next time!

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Jennifer B. January 25, 2010 at 1:01 am

Those written here and the suggestions in the comments are only the tip of the iceberg. Columbus is a hotbed for foodies, which sometimes still surprises even me as a three-year resident.

I’ll second (and third and fourth) all the others who suggested Alana’s – she is notorious for using local fare and shops daily (almost?) at The North Market for her produce and meats. You might also check out Basi – it’s a TINY place with one of the best patios in Columbus. (Their fare is Italian, which I always find “okay” but others rave about it so I’m headed back soon.)

And at the risk of making this post as long as the blog, I’ll stop with one more rec. The Top for steak. It’s a throw-back to the Sinatra-era and you can still see the women in their finest and men in suits, sipping gin martinis, fine wines and scotch.

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TJ January 25, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Another skeptic converted! I felt the same way you did, Chris, when I moved to C-bus two years ago. I thought this was a backwater burg with no personality–boy was I wrong!

Why does Columbus have such a poor reputation?

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Chris January 25, 2010 at 2:36 pm

TJ – There’s a good discussion about Columbus’ reputation on the Columbus Underground website, where some people who live there are talking about my post. http://www.columbusunderground.com/forums/topic/eating-through-columbus

I’m not sure that Columbus has a poor reputation, per se – it’s that it has “no” reputation and doesn’t appear on most peoples’ radar. For ex., I knew more about Cleveland and Cincinnati becuase I’ve met people from there – and because they have football teams (lame, I know).

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Amber January 25, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Glad you had a good time. Hopefully your stay will be longer next time and you can experience some other great Columbus eats!

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Mollie January 28, 2010 at 5:14 pm

You didn’t try Jeni’s Ice Cream for dessert?! For shame!

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Chris January 28, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Mollie – I did get Jeni’s, at the Market.

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Jcancan April 19, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Chris
A few highlights for your next trip

M-Wow!!

Short North/Downtown
Barrio-fish tacos, donuts…..just a great spot
Flatiron -Gumbo
Due Amici
Rossi-Lamp Lollipops, Grilled Caesar, Pizza, Chocolate bomb
Marcella’s-anything
Burgundy Room-fried risotto
Betty’s-Monday Mac N Cheese, Sunday Brunch,
Rigsbys
Basil
Lemon Grass

German Village
G Michaels
Lindeys-lamp chops, Bisque
Thurmans-rings and Thurman Burger
Planks
Banana Bean

Grandview
Vino Vino
Figlio
Z Cucina

Easton
Ocean Club

Campus/North High
Hang Over-Easy
Andronicos
Nancy’s
Alana’s
Denise ice cream-Better than Jenis any day
Worthington Inn

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Bryan November 6, 2011 at 10:52 am

You are doing yourself a great disservice if you do not go to two of my favorite places to eat. My spanish in-laws who have travelled most of the hispanic world thought the food at the “Spain Restaurant” (now in Powell) was amongst the best they have had. And the “Hunan Gourmet” (East Main St in Whitehall) is consistently the best chinese food that I’ve had in the US. Try either, or both, and you will not be disapointed or hungry afterward. In addition to excellent food, both restaurants offer excellent service and a fair selection of drinks.

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